Human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is a relatively recently identified paramyxovirus that causes acute upper and lower respiratory tract infection. Entry of hMPV is unusual among the paramyxoviruses, in that fusion is accomplished by the fusion (F) protein without the attachment glycoprotein (G protein). It has been suggested that hMPV F protein utilizes integrin αvβ1 as a cellular receptor. Consistent with this, the F proteins of all known hMPV strains possess an integrin-binding motif ((329)RGD(331)). The role of this motif in viral entry, infectivity, and pathogenesis is poorly understood. Here, we show that α5β1 and αv integrins are essential for cell-cell fusion and hMPV infection. Mutational analysis found that residues R329 and G330 in the (329)RGD(331) motif are essential for cell-cell fusion, whereas mutations at D331 did not significantly impact fusion activity. Furthermore, fusion-defective RGD mutations were either lethal to the virus or resulted in recombinant hMPVs that had defects in viral replication in cell culture. In cotton rats, recombinant hMPV with the R329K mutation in the F protein (rhMPV-R329K) and rhMPV-D331A exhibited significant defects in viral replication in nasal turbinates and lungs. Importantly, inoculation of cotton rats with these mutants triggered a high level of neutralizing antibodies and protected against hMPV challenge. Taken together, our data indicate that (i) α5β1 and αv integrins are essential for cell-cell fusion and viral replication, (ii) the first two residues in the RGD motif are essential for fusion activity, and (iii) inhibition of the interaction of the integrin-RGD motif may serve as a new target to rationally attenuate hMPV for the development of live attenuated vaccines.
Importance: Human metapneumovirus (hMPV) is one of the major causative agents of acute respiratory disease in humans. Currently, there is no vaccine or antiviral drug for hMPV. hMPV enters host cells via a unique mechanism, in that viral fusion (F) protein mediates both attachment and fusion activity. Recently, it was suggested that hMPV F protein utilizes integrins as receptors for entry via a poorly understood mechanism. Here, we show that α5β1 and αv integrins are essential for hMPV infectivity and F protein-mediated cell-cell fusion and that the integrin-binding motif in the F protein plays a crucial role in these functions. Our results also identify the integrin-binding motif to be a new, attenuating target for the development of a live vaccine for hMPV. These findings not only will facilitate the development of antiviral drugs targeting viral entry steps but also will lead to the development new live attenuated vaccine candidates for hMPV.